In Bow’s novel, a young Canadian woman confronts family history and future choices on the isle of Crete.
After her mother dies, 25-year-old Callisto “Cally” Armstrong makes a discovery in her mother’s dressing table. Folded into a secret compartment is a “Cruise to Crete” pamphlet with her mother’s wedding rings taped to it and the shakily written words “For Cally.” Her mother was born in Crete, but Cally knows almost nothing else about her past. In Crete, Cally’s doubts grow about a planned new job and so does her curiosity about the island and her grandmother’s role in the resistance movement of World War II. Then there’s Oliver, a handsome American, although—as a restaurant waiter warns—“Tonight he dances. Tomorrow? Gone.” Cally’s stay becomes indefinitely lengthened as she lives as simply as possible, exploring family history, Crete and its people, and her deepening feelings for Oliver—but also a new sense of independence. Discovering her grandmother’s admirable bravery, she also finally learns her mother’s heartbreaking story. Bow (The Oak Island Affair, 2007, etc.) shows an accomplished and lyrical, but not overblown, style that is tied to the history, landscape and culture of Crete, as when Cally wrestles with initial doubts: “The day’s first light, piercing the clouds to lay patterns on the rolling surface of the sea, belonged to Zeus. But still shimmering with last night’s love, Aphrodite, ruthless as ebony, old as art, danced a whole sequence of choices above the morning waves.” Bow’s descriptions of Crete’s natural beauty are vivid and evocative. But there’s more to the book than lovely descriptions of food, landscape and romance. The World War II history is harrowing; Oliver’s Gulf War experience adds a dimension. An obviously right decision becomes the wrong decision on further reflection. Important questions like whether it’s possible to avoid being implicated in the modern world’s sins are thoughtfully considered. Perhaps Cally is luckier than she ought to be, but then, her mother was unluckier.
A skillfully written novel, romantic yet tough-minded, in a beautiful setting.